Last month, mental_floss reported that researchers had discovered a possible link between a drop in dementia rates in the United States and a rise in education levels. Now, researchers across the pond are reporting a similar connection between lower dementia rates and positive lifestyle changes. Over the last two decades, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, the UK has seen a 20 percent drop in dementia rates, and scientists believe healthier lifestyles—in particular, lower cholesterol and the reduction of smoking—may be the cause. The Guardian reports that in the 1990s, many researchers predicted a rise in dementia rates, but according to the study, dementia seems to be becoming less common, especially in men.
Researchers in the UK interviewed 7500 people over the age of 65 in three locations (Cambridgeshire, Newcastle, and Nottingham) between 1991 and 1994, recording the incidence of dementia. Then, in 2008 and 2011, they returned to those towns and performed the same dementia tests on more than 7500 new participants. They found that dementia incidence had dropped by a fifth since the 1990s. While both men and women had an overall drop in dementia rates, the drop was greater in men than in women.
Though researchers aren’t sure exactly why dementia rates have dropped, they believe that broader health and lifestyle shifts may be at play. General improvements in education, diet, and exercise earlier in life, they claim, may help ward off dementia later. For men, reduced smoking rates may also play a significant role.
Researchers emphasize that a focus on dementia prevention early in life, and improved access to healthcare and education, could be the key to keeping dementia rates low. However, they note that it will take a concerted global effort to improve healthcare to keep the so-called “dementia time bomb” from exploding.
"While we've seen investment in Europe and many other countries, the lack of progress in access to education, malnutrition in childhood and persistent inequalities within and across other countries means that dementia will continue to have a major impact globally," researcher Carol Brayne explained. "Our evidence shows that the so-called dementia 'tsunami' is not an inevitability: we can help turn the tide if we take action now."
[h/t The Guardian]